DVD production: Planning the facility
By Bennett Liles
Production and post facilities everywhere are adding DVD production suites to update and expand their service offerings. While among vendors there is a race to the bottom in terms of flooding the market with low-cost DVD recorders and authoring applications, this article focuses on the more robust and hardware-driven systems currently joining traditional broadcast machinery in the racks at video production firms. This is to differentiate between consumer DVD recording and professional DVD production.
This photo shows an integrated DVD workstation at the DVD Foundry. Workstation elements include an NTSC monitor, Sony and Panasonic DVD players, and sound-absorbing material on the wall. Atop the large monitor is a DV camera.
Any video production or post plant looking to add a DVD premastering operation must first strive to get a clear picture concerning the needs of their anticipated clientele. DVD creation has many more flavors than traditional video production, and facility planners must carefully anticipate both the volume of work and the exact DVD formats to be offered.
Will the clients want to do feature-length movies, DVD copies of existing television broadcasts, interactive DVD titles with complex navigation cues and moving menus, or karaoke disks and music videos? Will the audio require encoding in MPEG-2, Dolby Digital or PCM? Will the facility need to be set up for recording and monitoring in 5.1 surround? How many simultaneous audio tracks will be supported?
Network or stand-alone?
The question of volume will be the first fork in the road. The answer will decide whether to build a few individual workstations with integrated functions or to go with a distributed network model where each workstation is dedicated to specialized performance in one area of the DVD production chain. The workstations in the distributed network model will be connected for shared storage on a high-speed network using shared RAID arrays. The heavy storage requirements of DVD premastering have begun a migration to storage area networks (SANs), which consist of workstations using shared, independent and largely proprietary storage devices. Segments of a SAN can reach up to 10km. If heavy volume is anticipated, the distributed network model is the way to go.
In the network model, specialization can be made to varying degrees, but most of these systems involve a video encoding station where racks of peripherals may include Beta SP and miniDV, but Digital Beta will likely be the most popular original tape format with broadcasters. The encoding station may also require a black-burst-to-word-sync converter. Encoders should be capable of both constant bit rate (CBR) and for longer titles, variable bit rate (VBR) encoding.
The next specialized workstation may be in the audio encoding area. A DA-88 or ADAT modular digital multitrack machine could go here, along with audio CD players and burners, DAT machines and MP3 players. The environment should have the same acoustic properties as the traditional sound editing suite, including 5.1 surround monitoring.
The artist's workstation is used to create functional and aesthetic properties for complex graphics and menus in interactive DVD projects. The graphics workstation should also include the capability to print out intricate presentation and storyboarding displays to maintain close communication with clients. The importance of this client communication climbs exponentially from video to DVD plans. With the interlocking structure of some DVD projects, single revisions may tend to cascade into many more. Subtitling will require massive file storage and access capability in addition to that required for graphics displays.
The authoring workstation is the platform that puts it all together. This workstation needs to have playback ability from remote storage arrays and enough processing power to do complex rendering in real or near real-time. The authoring workstation will access the encoding station's files for audio and video content and the graphics station's files for navigation menus, subtitles and other displays. It will also output the finished project directly to a routing system or digital patch bay to feed the digital linear tape (DLT).
All of the peripheral equipment should be router-connected to reduce downtime from machine failures. If you expect to be producing more than 20 or 30 titles a year, the network model, with its distributed workflow architecture, will be needed.
DVD proofing has become such an involved process that new businesses have evolved that do nothing but take prototype DVDs and play them in a wide, in-house assembly of different consumer players. The process, known as monkey testing, subjects the original disk to every known player format and viewer preference. The proofing house then submits a detailed report to the premastering firm noting every problem with the most serious listed first and the more insignificant glitches noted in descending priority.
Regardless of whether the network or stand-alone model is used, careful planning, continuous client communication and frequent proofing are essential tasks in the DVD production facility, and the plant must be so designed and equipped.
Bennett Liles is a writer and TV production engineer in the Atlanta area.